Sunday, August 3, 2014

8 Pentecost

August 3, 2014


Matthew 14.13-21

+ Last week, in my sermon, we went back in time. We went back 40 years—to July 29, 1974. We visited the Philadelphia 11—the first eleven women ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.

This morning, we’re going back another ten years before that. We’re going back to 1964. This period of time is a little more my pace. It was a bit less tumultuous than 1974. The top songs in the country on this day in 1964 were songs like “A Hard Day’s Night” by the Beatles and “Girl from Ipanema” by Stan Getz. See, nice and easy. No John Denver here. There’s no Nixon impeachment happening here.

On this day in 1964, Monday, August 3, 1964, a very famous writer died. Actually, when she died, she wasn’t that famous. In fact, in her hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, the two novels she had published and the one collection of short stories were met with confusion. Her somewhat violent stories were not what people expected of a nice young Catholic woman. They wanted Gone with the Wind. And she gave them stories of misfits murdering people and a Bible Salesmen running off with the prosthetic limbs of a girl he seduced.

But it was today that Flannery O’Connor died of lupus at the age of 39. O’Connor, as some of you might know, has long been a major influence in my life, mostly for her writing. But O’Connor was also very deeply and devoutly Roman Catholic. And her writings on faith are as compelling as her fiction.

Earlier this year, one of her recently discovered notebooks was published. It was filled with prayers she wrote.  As I read through this somewhat candid book of prayers, I was impressed with O’Connor’s sense of brokenness. She recognized acutely her own sense of brokenness. And she worked from that place. In fact, throughout her stories and novels, the pervading sense is of brokenness.  Her characters are all broken, in a broken world. But the key consistently is: how does one use and rise above one’s brokenness?

We encounter brokenness today in our Gospel reading, but we do so only in the midst of some magical culinary experiences.  Here also we have an incredible meal.  We have a miracle involving food.  But we realize that like any truly magical culinary experience that there is more involved here than just the sharing of food.  There is something deeper, something more meaningful.  What we find happening today is something very familiar to us who follow Jesus.

This so-called feeding of the multitudes appears frequently in the Gospel readings. Six times, actually.  You know, then, that it is an important event in the lives of those early followers of Jesus if they are going to write about it six times. For us, this feeding of the multitude also has much meaning.  Yes, it is a great miracle in the life of Jesus.  But it also has meaning in our lives as well.

If you listen closely to what is happening in the reading you’ll notice that, in many ways, we reenact what happens in today’s Gospel in our own lives as Christians.  If you look closely, Jesus doesn’t just perform some outstanding miracle just to “wow” the crowds.  He also performs a very practical act.  And, as often happens in the life of Jesus, the practical and the spiritual get bound up with each other.

In our reading we find Jesus saying of the bits of bread and fish, “Bring them here to me.”

Then he proceeds to do four things.  He takes the bread and fish, he blesses it, he breaks the bread and he gives it to them. He takes, blesses, breaks and gives.  That’s important to remember. When else do we hear and do these things?  Well, at every Eucharist we celebrate together. Every time we gather at this altar, we take, we bless, we break and we give.

Of course, we commemorate the Last Supper when we do these things, but certainly, in the early Church, those early followers of Jesus remembered all those moments when Jesus shared food with them as kinds of Eucharistic events, since essentially the same actions took place at each.  They also saw these meals—these moments when Jesus fed people—as glimpses to what awaited us.  And we do too.

You have heard me say many, many times that when I talk of the Kingdom of God, I imagine a meal.  The Kingdom of God is truly a meal—a wonderfully meal with friends.  It is a meal in which the finest foods are served, the best wines are uncorked and everyone—everyone, no matter who they are—is treated as an honored guest.  And everyone IS invited.

Of course, some don’t have to come, but everyone is invited to this meal.  In a sense, that is the very reason I hold the Eucharist to be so important to my own personal and spiritual life.  What we celebrate at this altar is a glimpse of what awaits us all.  What we do here is a moment in which we get to see what the Kingdom of God is really like.  But what all of this—the feeding of the multitude, the Eucharist, the Kingdom as a meal—shows us as well is the way forward to doing ministry.

How do we bring the Kingdom of God into our midst, as we are told to do as followers of Jesus?  We do it by taking, blessing, breaking and giving.  In our case, we do this with the ministry we have been given to do.  We take what is given us to share.  We bless it, by asking God’s blessing on it.  We break it, because only by breaking it can we share it.  And we give it.

This is what each of us is called to do in our ministries, in our service to those around us. The Eucharist is the basis—the ground work or the blueprints—on what we should be doing as followers of Jesus.  Our ministries call us to feed those who are hungry.  Yes, to feed the physically hungry, but also to feed the spiritually hungry, the emotionally hungry, the socially hungry, as well.  We are called to take of our very selves, to bless ourselves, to break ourselves to share and to give of ourselves.  Just as Jesus did.

It’s not easy.  It’s not fun.  There is nothing fun in being broken. I can tell you that in all honesty form my own experience.  In fact, oftentimes, it’s painful and tiring and exhausting.  But this is what it means to follow Jesus.  And when we do these things, the Kingdom comes forth in our midst.

Our job as Christians is to let people know this one simple fact—there is a meal awaiting us and everyone, EVERYONE, is invited.  Our job as followers of Jesus is to do what Jesus does.  We are to be the invitation to the meal.  And we do this best by showing people what the meal will be like.

We take, we bless, we break and we give of ourselves, freely and without limit or qualm.  We give freely without prejudice or distinction. Yes, I know—it is a radical thought to think of such things.  But, so is feeding a multitude of people in abundance from just a bit of bread and two fish.

So, let us do as Jesus does.  Let us embody that meal to which we are all invited.  Let us take with us what we gain from the meal we share here at this altar.  And let us, in turn, bless, break and give to all those around us in need.

There is an incredible meal awaiting us.  We are catching a glimpse of it here this morning.  We who feed here this morning on what may appear to some to be little, will be filled. And those whom we feed in turn will also be filled.

"Give them something to eat,” Jesus is saying to us.

How can we not do just that?

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